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Beginnings and Ends

April 17, 2021

Dr. Jonathan Lundgren

I don’t think I would be as good a farmer (or a scientist, for that matter), if I didn’t have winter. As a Saturday spring morning greets Blue Dasher Farm, the crystallization of a winter’s worth of “That’s a great idea! We should do that!” into a series of actions and tangible outcomes can be sobering. It is easy to come up with a splay of great ideas behind a desk, or watching a video, or over a glass of wine. If only a manageable proportion of them turn to fruit, it still makes for a pretty good life if you have enough great ideas. Ideas have never been a bottleneck for Christina and me. I just have to be able to remind myself to periodically look at the things that I accomplished, rather than the list of things that I didn’t.

The renovation of our scientific laboratory is 90% completed. To accommodate our rapid growth, this winter we completely gutted our laboratory facility that houses Ecdysis Foundation. This renovation has needed to happen since we opened our doors, and sets the stage for the next 10-15 years’ worth of research. Staff no longer feels like we are working in a dingy, unfinished barn, functionally having to walk through winter temperatures to use the bathroom. The second iteration of the laboratory (the first iteration was a milking parlor and dog kennel) served its purpose, but that purpose is now realized. Keeping the family and science and farm all operating while overseeing a major construction project was…well, it was really hard.

The prairie erupted in pasque flowers this past week. When I arrived 6 seasons ago, the prairie was largely smooth brome, and had been for decades. We have implemented staged burns annually to different sections of it for the past few years, with stunning results. It now has some of the densest populations of native prairie dropseed that I have ever seen. And this spring, a carpet of pasque emerged on the eastern catenas of last years’ burn site that may be one of the most abundant populations of this flower left on Earth. My goodness, what a beautiful thing this prairie is.

The poultry are thriving. The gander has become a real dick, chasing staff (and even cars!) as they walk about the farm. We are assured that this is just his annual “time”. Christina and I talked about it, and if he doesn’t get nicer by the end of May, we may have to enjoy a goose dinner. The female turkey that Gabby brought home a few years back decided to hunker down and start incubating some chicken eggs. Every day we slip the chicken eggs out from under her as she bustles her feathers. Then Christina decided to slip a couple of goose and duck eggs under her to see if she will hatch them for us. The end of the experiment awaits. We bought a peacock and a peahen, acclimated them to the coop for a month, then opened their door and watched them fly away. Shaking our heads and thinking to ourselves “well…that didn’t work”. A few days later, the peahen was back with the flock- no sign of the peacock just yet, but we have hope in this. We are bracing ourselves for the spring chicks. Meat birds and layer hens arrive in a couple of weeks. As will a pile of turkeys that we will be raising for our customers’ Thanksgivings (order yours now…). It is always so exciting to have these chicks arrive. And it is always equally exciting to not have to maintain them separately from the flock after a few weeks.

The lambs are popping about. I recently read All Creatures Great and Small (by James Herriot), about a country veterinarian in England. He said that sheep never needed his attention for 11 months of the year, and then for one month of the year (during lambing), it was all he could focus on. The past several years, we have struggled with February lamb-sicles, twin-lamb in the ewes, and difficult births. I have learned through too many mistakes, and this year we are spring lambing and have 6 for 6 living, healthy little lambs with happy mothers. At this rate we should have nearly 40 lambs by the end of the season, quickly bringing our flock to the desired size of 50 ewes and their lambs. Now we pray for rain (and a bit more heat) to make the forage around the farm grow. Luckily, we have the native prairie, whose roots are deep, to help us through even the driest of summers. We also are implementing some new fencing options that will partition the farm into semi-permanent paddocks that can be revisited over the season, and hopefully will keep the sheep in better than our nets have. Usually, the bold spring lambs figure out how to lift the bottom of the net up, slip under, and then encourage the rest of the flock to come join them in the new world of freedom. Then they get scared, and wake Christina and me up beneath our bedroom window, and we walk them back to the hard-fenced paddock.

The bees are dead, again. Seventy-five hives went into November with a corpse’s weight in honey and pollen to see them through the winter. We checked them this week to find that they had all died, honey stores nearly completely intact. Luckily, with Tia’s data on pesticide loads, immune function, and physiological status on each hive, we should get a better picture as to why hives continue to die, and what we can do to keep them alive. 25 years ago, 10% of the hives would have died over winter with almost no management. Now, nearly all of them die. We accept these losses and rebuild the nation’s bee colonies.

The end of days is not fire and brimstone. It is the incremental degradation of the life and quality of life around us. The acceptance of life’s ablation as “normal”. It is when we pause and raise our eyes and heads up, and recognize our complacency as an enemy, that solutions are found. There is so much hope in a newborn lamb.


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